Sixty years ago this coming Sunday, Hungarians rose up in armed revolution to claim their freedom and independence, sending shockwaves through the Cold War world. And while the revolution itself may have failed, it has by no means been forgotten. Following the Red Army’s crushing defeat of revolutionary forces and the return of Communist dictatorship, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians fled the country; many of these refugees eventually found a home in the United States of America. Today these same refugees, alongside their children and grandchildren, have organized a huge number of events commemorating the revolution throughout America, keeping the memory of this important historical event alive, and in a very clear way honoring all those who sacrificed in the name of Hungarian freedom. While by no means comprehensive, this article attempts to provide a brief overview of some of these interesting and exciting events.
Cleveland, Ohio, has long been home to a vibrant and active Hungarian-American community, a community whose members have planned an extensive series of events to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. From October 16th to the 30th, John Carroll University is hosting a memorial exhibit honoring the 60th anniversary of the Revolution, whose opening was followed by the viewing of two films about the events of 1956 in Hungary. Likewise, the Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Society will be hosting an exhibit on the Revolution at their museum. In addition, on October 20th there will be a reception in City Hall in recognition of this important anniversary, where the mayor will be in attendance. This will be followed by Friday’s performance of Bartok’s 1st piano concerto by Yuja Wang and the world-famous Cleveland Orchestra. Festivities will conclude with the Legacy of Freedom concerted scheduled for Sunday the 23rd, which will be held at St. Emeric Roman Catholic Church, and which will feature the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra performing works by Liszt, Kodaly, Erkel, Brahms, Kacsoh, and Berlioz.
In New York City, there are a number of unique and interesting events being held in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Revolution. On October 22nd, the city’s Hungarian House will be hosting an opening for its new exhibit, Milestones (Mérföldkövek). This exhibit, which will be opened by Ferenc Kumin, Hungary’s Consul General for New York, focuses on the lives and personal possessions of those who fought and fled in the course of the Revolution and its aftermath, who would come to eventually make America their new home. Nor are commemorations in New York limited to indoor events; to honor the memory of the revolution, the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge will be lit up in red, white, and green every night from the 20th to the 22nd. In addition, on October 23rd itself a dedication ceremony will be held in New York’s Riverside Park for a monument commemorating the 1956 revolution. The new monument’s dedication, which will take place next to the Statue of 1848 revolutionary Lajos Kossuth, will be followed by the performance in a nearby theater of the Hungarian National Dance Ensemble’s show dedicated to the 1956 Revolution, entitled Spirit of Hungary.
Sunday’s performance of Spirit of Hungary will be the National Dance Ensemble’s final stop on what has been an extensive tour of Hungarian communities throughout the United States. The show, which commemorates Hungarians’ heroic spirit of defiance in 1956, as well as highlighting Hungarian culture, has been making its way through much of the eastern half of the United States. Beginning in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the tour has visited Buffalo, Toronto, Dayton, Toledo, and Chicago, and will be making stops in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. before holding its final performance in New York on the 23rd. All of the cities where the National Dance Ensemble has performed or will be performing Spirit of Hungary have active Hungarian communities, some larger and some smaller, all of whom have eagerly and enthusiastically welcomed the ensemble’s program as part of their own commemorations of the Revolution’s 60th anniversary.
In the nation’s capital, the local Hungarian-American community has been hosting a series of important events throughout the Washington D.C. area to commemorate the outbreak of the Revolution. There is currently an exhibit inside the Pentagon entitled “The Heroes of the 1956 Revolution: The Fight for Freedom and Democracy that Changed the Cold War,” as well as another exhibit commemorating the Revolution located in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building, where the offices of many American legislators are located. In addition to these prominent commemorative exhibitions, October 16th saw the official dedication ceremony of a new statue depicting one of the “lads of Pest,” the young city-dwellers who risked everything for the cause of Hungarian freedom. This new monument, a ‘twin brother’ to the statue of the Pest lad located in Budapest at the Corvin Movie Theater, site of some of the fiercest fighting during the Revolution, was celebrated in speeches by both American and Hungarian politicians, including Hungary’s Ambassador to the United States, Réka Szemerkényi, as well as the American Ambassador to Hungary, Colleen Bell.
However, events organized to commemorate the Revolution have by no means been limited to the East Coast and Cleveland. In Los Angeles, in addition to memorial ceremonies, the well-known Hungarian folk-music band Csik Zenekar will be holding a concert on October 22nd at the United Magyar House. Elsewhere in California, in San Jose, the Hungarian flag will be flying for an entire week over the City Hall in honor of the Revolution. In Boston, there was commemoration held inside historic Faneuil Hall, which included internationally recognized Hungarian pianist Ádám György. Citizens in dozens of towns and cities across North America are participating in events commemorating the Revolution, and these commemorations are by no means limited to places with historically large Hungarian populations. From a memorial service in Irving, Texas to an art exhibition in Boca Raton, Florida, people throughout the United States are remembering the sacrifices and courage of Hungarians sixty years ago. U.S. cities from Phoenix, Arizona to Seattle Washington, from Fort Worth, Texas to Saint Paul, Minnesota have all held or will be holding events commemorating the anniversary of a revolution that took place in a small, landlocked country half of world away and over half a century ago. The fact that so many commemorations are taking place at such a large physical and temporal remove from the events being remembered shows not only the strength and resiliency of Hungarian communities across America, but also the huge, global significance of the 1956 Revolution. Through these many acts of celebration and remembrance, Hungarian Americans are reminding everyone that the Revolution was a significant event not only in Hungarian or European history, but in the history of the modern world as a whole, a world that has been greatly shaped by the events that took place this Sunday, sixty years ago.